Director – Tobe Hooper
Cast – Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Martin Casella, Richard Lawson, Michael McManus, Virginia Kiser
Release Year – 1982
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Poltergeist was one of my favorite horror films growing up, and after viewing it for the first time in years its greatness still rings true to this day. After establishing himself as a legitimate horror director with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Eaten Alive, Salem’s Lot, and The Funhouse, Austin native Tobe Hooper took on Steven Spielberg’s ghost story and turned it into a forever classic. Aided by Spielberg’s superb story and Hooper’s positive direction, Poltergeist delivers horror that still hits hard decades after its inception, and gives us possibly the scariest PG movie of all time.
The young Freeling is living the standard American life; dad works a good job, mom keeps the kids healthy and in school, and they have a golden retriever. However, this perfect life the Freeling’s live soon comes to an abrupt halt when their youngest daughter, Carol-Anne(Heather O’Rourke), connects with ghosts on the “other side” via a dead channel on their TV set. The ghosts come off friendly at first, toying and amusing the family in a playful manner, but eventually they turn hostile and kidnap Carole-Anne into their dimension. Faced with a situation outside the control of authorities, the Freeling family enlists the help of paranormal investigators to retrieve their young daughter, a move that results in angrier and deadlier ghosts.
It really is surprising to me that a PG film could scare as well as Poltergeist does, although I must acknowledge the fact that it originally received an R-rating, which was successfully protested by Spielberg & co. and given a PG rating(PG-13 ratings were not available at the time). Regardless, Poltergeist does not rely on intense gore or a ghastly killer to scare its viewer but instead relies on good and sincere filmmaking…and it works.
Steven Spielberg’s screenplay, co-written by Michael Grais and Mark Victor, is fantastic and perfectly paces this near two-house film. From the get-go we are enveloped into the Freeling family’s seemingly perfect life, thanks much to Hooper’s direction, which plays nice with the horror that would later ensue. Years before Ringu delivered Sadako crawling out of a dead TV channel, Steven Spielberg cleverly used the idea to introduce the horror in this film, which is truly creepy in nature given we have all most likely come across such channels several times in life. Many other simple yet well-written and well-executed scare tactics are employed by Spielberg, and they world wonderfully in delivering scares that I have not forgotten since childhood. One idea that I really enjoyed was the fact that he story never used the clichéd “non-believing spouse” tactic that we often see with haunting films. I saw this used with Kiefer Sutherland’s character in Mirrors trying to convince his wife about what was going on, as well as Daniel not believing his family about the haunting in Paranormal Activity 2. Spielberg & co. simply deliver the film as simple as possible, which in turn gives us awesome results.
As I mentioned earlier, Hooper’s execution is awesome, and he compliments the screenplay with his perfect, visuals, sets, and life-action FX and trickery. His execution of the numerous horror scenes involved is one of the heavy reasons behind why they hit so hard, and I really would have never guessed that Tobe Hooper directed this watch without his name appearing at the end of the opening credits. As far as music, editing, looping, and the overall vision of the FX, it was Spielberg who oversaw the work, leaving Hooper simply to the direction, nothing more. Thankfully, Hooper did a fantastic job delivering this film to us, marking the pinnacle point in his long career.
Overall, Poltergeist delivers one of the best and most enjoyable horror experiences of all time, thanks much to Spielberg’s awesome screenplay and Hooper’s fantastic direction. It may surprise some that a PG film could be a positive horror watch, but when great filmmaking is at hand anything is possible, as proven by Poltergeist.